One of the questions I constantly hear in my day to day practice is “what is music therapy?” which is usually followed by “I’ve never heard of it before.” If you are one of the people who are unaware of what music therapy is, here are 5 things you need to know which will help answer that question! Music therapy has been gaining much more publicity with social media so why not add another source to the list 🙂
So here is the scoop…
1. Music Therapy is an Accredited Health Care Profession
Music therapy has been an accredited profession since the 1950s, however most people are not aware of this. When most people think of therapists their minds go to the classic Freudian psychologist, speech therapists, occupational therapists or physical therapists. Music therapists should also be considered in this list as we are similar to the other therapies in that we work towards non-musical goals, provide documentation towards progress, are well educated in the areas of music and psychology, accredited and certified to practice, and often times we can co-treat alongside other therapies to help you achieve quicker and better results. Currently, there are around 5,000 board certified music therapists working in the United States. Each one has completed at least an undergraduate degree in music therapy, has completed a required 1,040 hour internship and passed the national board certification exam required by our professional organization in order to practice. In addition to this, our profession requires continuing education to keep this certification, so we are constantly improving ourselves to benefit you! So remember, if your music therapist doesn’t have the credentials of MT-BC (Music Therapist, Board Certified) then they are not a true music therapist.
2. You DON’T Have to Be a Musician to Benefit!
I have had countless participants express to me at the beginning of a session, “I’m not a musician so I don’t know how good I’ll be”, or “I can only play the radio”. The truth of the matter is, music therapists strive to make sessions non-musician proof, meaning that we want you to have a successful musical experience and be fully involved even if you have no idea how to play a note. More often than not we are actually working with people who do not consider themselves musicians. If you are one of these people I encourage you to consider that you actually ARE a musician! Everyone has an inherent rhythm which is our living, breathing, physical body. Every part of you is made up of millions of tiny rhythms all working together, from our hearts all the way down to our cells. In music therapy the therapist works with you to successfully create music and be a part of a powerful musical experience even if you have never had any formal musical training.
3. Music Therapy Can Benefit ALL Populations (Even Healthy People!)
One of my favorite observations is when I work in the hospital treating cancer patients while they receive chemotherapy. I enter the room and it is mostly quiet with only the sounds of beeping and televisions buzzing from the patients barricading themselves off from their surroundings. How quickly the atmosphere changes once music is introduced! Before you know it everyone in the room is focusing on the music, interacting with those around them, smiling, relaxing and even the staff gets involved by singing along and participating in discussions. Not only am I treating the patients, but their loved ones and the staff are receiving benefits as well. That is one of the unique characteristics of music therapy… everyone around is effected and can benefit, even if they are not the targeted patient being treated. Music has the power to express when words cannot be found, guide when there is no sight, uplift when the spirit is broken, teach when one struggles to be taught and so much more. I have yet to find a population that music therapy cannot aid in treating.
4. Music is a Whole Brain Process
The crazy thing with music and the brain is that no one area of the brain processes music alone. There are so many different aspects of music that even if half of your brain is removed you will still respond and be able to decipher it to some extent because both hemispheres play a part in musical processing. This is why music therapy is so effective with victims of brain injuries. Music very often can bypass where the injury is and lead to new connections aiding in recovery or relearning. In addition, memories of music are also stored throughout your brain, not just one localized section. Have you ever witnessed someone with dementia finish an entire chorus of a song with just a few notes reintroduced? I do almost every day! Try it on yourself! Just by hearing a few notes of a song you haven’t heard in years you will be surprised how much of the song you can continue to sing. Long story short, our brains are heavily influenced by music and there are connections to music throughout them making it a great therapy especially when a neurological impairment has occurred.
5. Music Therapy is Very Effective… We Have Research!
There are countless publications in the Journal of Music Therapy and Music Therapy Perspectives the two largest periodical collections put forth by our organization, AMTA (The American Music Therapy Association). You can find numerous studies and abstracts simply by searching Google or visiting the AMTA website (click the link to access bibliographies for specific populations). So why is music therapy so effective? There are many reasons, in fact too many to get into in this post, but consider #4 as mentioned above, the fact that nearly everyone on the planet enjoys music to some extent, music is fun and non-invasive which always helps with motivation, and it has the ability to affect us physically, emotionally, cognitively and spiritually. The best part is that music therapy can affect all of these things at the same time!
So with those 5 facts go forth and share the word! Maybe you are looking for a therapy that will work for you… I bet music therapy just might be one of them 🙂